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Technology companies are moving toward Agile development. This is driven by the need to improve productivity, boost product quality, and make delivery against business goals more predictable. Product management is a crucial part of the move to Agile, calling for new skills and new kinds of deliverables. Many product management organizations, however, do not have experience with Agile deliverables, processes or communications styles. This white paper briefly reviews Agile development, then identifies six levels of product management and how Agile changes those levels. Roles, processes and deliverables are increasingly divergent from waterfall models as we move from long-term strategy toward sprintlevel and daily activities. We will use an outside-to-inside approach to examine Agile Product Management responsibilities for: 1. Portfolio Management 2. Roadmaps and Release Plans 3. Requirements Management and Communication 4. Customer Input and Collaboration 5. Agile Product Teams 6. Communicating Information Up, Across and Out In reality, Agile Product Managers address these different levels simultaneously, not sequentially. In the course of a single day, a product manager might meet with her customers, adjust roadmaps or release dates, review backlogs work with developers, and present new financial forecasts to executive teams. Product managers are continuously working at many levels of detail, rapidly switching from the general to the specific and back. For clarity within this white paper, though, we address these six levels sequentially. We also introduce a multi-purpose "onion" diagram. This represents the overlapping time horizons (or scopes) for various Agile activities. Daily development and stand-ups happen many times within a sprint, which occurs several times per release, which forms a product roadmap, as part of a broader product portfolio and company strategy. These activities happen simultaneously, but at different rates and with different audiences. It is critical for an Agile Product Manager to negotiate each level on behalf of his product: generating support and visibility from different parts of the organization based on each appropriate schedule. Ultimately, Agile Product Management and development approaches lead to measurable improvements in products, financials and customer satisfaction. These results matter to senior executives, thus moving decisions about Agile beyond Engineering/Development organizations. Product Management is central to successful Agile processes, providing essential inputs: market and customer insight, priorities and organizational communication. Without appropriate product management, Agile development teams simply build the wrong products faster.
Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys, Inc. |
Page 1 www.Enthiosys.com
May 2008 650.528.4000
a deep understanding of customers/markets. product managers are important contributors to portfolio-level product planning. Over time. product managers need to be truly expert about market segments. and feedback about recent financial results. They also evolve existing product plans based on accurate project status. surveys and customer visits.com May 2008 650. and they plan to re-plan. Once product managers understand customer needs Portfolio Management Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. • Use cases. Inc. Executives want to see credible market research and business plans before they green-light new initiatives. then frequent re-planning to reflect reality. • Estimation of backlog items is done by the entire team during Release and Sprint Planning meetings. features and requirements are broken down into user stories. • Agile reduces risk through continuous adjustment. Each team takes responsibility for resolving problems internally. • Work items are put on the backlog. It starts with strategic portfolio issues. This builds experience within the team estimating tasks and backlog items. The fundamentals are recapped here for clarity and consistency of terminology: • Agile planning is a process that builds in mechanisms for frequent early feedback and rapid re-planning. each of which is designed to deliver incremental features that are potentially shippable from a quality perspective. • Development is organized around sprints. | Page 2 www. business opportunities. taking advantage of collective wisdom and shared experience. creating opportunities to deliver incremental value to customers. Said another way. Assuming an overall company strategy (or a divisional strategy for larger organizations). wireframes and story boards. early user validation and more frequent delivery of smaller work elements. • Customers review working versions throughout the development cycle. and quickly escalating issues. teams become more effective and more efficient. Therefore. then moves through the different levels of iterative planning and execution activities that are part of a typical development cycle. • Teams are self-organizing. This provides a way to more effectively manage inevitable changes in the external environment. re-allocating resources to meet goals." The balance of this paper describes six key areas where a product manager can have a significant impact on a company’s overall success in adopting and Agile development process. not just during beta. this is divided into new product development and ongoing management of existing products: product managers create proposals for new products that depend heavily on future scenarios about markets. technologies and financial forecasts. as well as discoveries the team will make about the technology and product that they are building. They may focus customer input with prototypes. • Agile teams do a lot of planning at the start of a project. Over time.4000 . 1. Teams deliver backlog items in priority order.Enthiosys. technical risks and high-level requirements when presenting major new efforts. the team improves its estimation skills. "Agile teams plan.The Basics of Agile The fundamentals of Agile development have been intensively covered by other authors. Generally. with brief daily stand-ups to identify roadblocks.528. product managers use a variety of data-gathering tools including secondary research. each ideally small enough to be completed in one sprint. To understand these issues.
Most importantly. (Technical architecture is typically dropped from purely marketing-driven maps. It should include information such as: • The market segments to be addressed over the coming 6-24 months and (at a very high level) how the product will meet that segment’s needs. prioritize features and communicate with the broader organization. more deliberate. • An "architecture" portion where technical Architecture members identify items underlying architectural items needed to deliver the releases. The. since that help identify alternatives when the cost of change is lowest.Enthiosys. engineers. marketers and other stakeholders.4000 . Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. we’ve found that a solid roadmap is needed to tell the whole product story. regulatory Release Window Benefits Rhythms changes and competitive events) that drive feature delivery dates. Because Agile Product Managers have such a demanding (and repetitive) communication challenge. they use roadmaps as an essential tool for communicating how tactical development and release plans support the company’s product strategy. For the most part. To create good roadmaps. This builds accountability. • An “Events and Rhythms” portion to identify time-based outside influences Events & Features & (such as a trade shows. Inc. since they generally have more product information (and expertise) than other actors at the portfolio level – and Agile Product Managers tend to have fresher and more detailed customer intelligence at hand. and viewed as more costly than product-level decisions. Agile teams expect and plan for their roadmaps to change.) Product managers want their entire teams raising technical issues early in the planning process.and preferences. they combine that information with detailed cost and revenue models to build a credible business case. portfolio planning and new product proposals happen separately from day-today product development processes. Roadmaps and Release Planning Agile Product Managers need good product roadmaps. build consensus. Agile roadmaps are built iteratively and reviewed often by the core team (not just the product manager). 2. Agile Product Managers use a highly collaborative roadmapping process to drive planning sessions with architects. • A “Features and Benefits” portion Markets indicating the top 3-4 features that will truly move the market. the product portfolio is adapted to add a new product or shift resources so that existing products can address new opportunities.com May 2008 650. however. Roadmaps are central part of the Agile Product Managers toolkit . they must collaborate effectively with all stakeholders and gather a broad set of inputs. If approved. which makes early identification of feasibility and resource constraints very difficult.used to identify release windows. | Page 3 www. Portfolio decisions are slower. Product managers are an important part of this process.528. since representatives of all core functions are in the room when the map is built or updated.
therefore. Agile teams consume requirements and user stories "just in time" as relevant backlog items are reached. The Agile Product Manager’s approach to describing a market. the product manager usually ends up doing both. This can be very challenging – the team must paint high level goals. readers complain that they don’t have the information they need.com May 2008 650. Agile teams quickly become acculturated with release planning. As shorthand for product strategy. Once an ideal release window is identified and the high level plan is validated by all stakeholders. sales. Finance. Sadly.528. Unfortunately. | Page 4 www. One of the more celebrated documents used for this purpose is the Market Requirements Document. features and ultimately user stories to a level of detail that the development team can effectively estimate. Writing a good MRD is challenging because it suffers from several wellknown problems: • Difficult to write at the appropriate level of detail. teams are ready to do release planning. Still. This means that Agile Product Managers must be able to "play in the technical weeds" one minute. • Must serve many audiences. executives. the document becomes unwieldy and less likely to be read. or are assigned their own conference rooms for immediate access.Enthiosys. features and value proposition for release. incorporating and representing information coming top-down. For example. • Created. not consumed.4000 . Defining market needs and expressing them appropriately for development teams is one of the most important responsibilities of a product manager. release planning and outbound marketing efforts. The contents of an MRD change at different speeds. Typically. then refine and divide requirements into use cases. This gives product managers a versatile tool for the continuous planning that occurs within an Agile development environment. For example changes to the company strategy. roadmaps often stay posted on executive office walls. its requirements. and ongoing development status can be factored back into the roadmap. traditional MRDs are a poor fit for the needs of an Agile product team. Each consumer of a traditional MRD must determine which portions to ignore. bottom-up or outside-in. • Poorly maintained. If the product manager writes too little. and development each need parts of the MRD but rarely all of it. information from voice-of-the-customer programs.Roadmaps provide the basis for decisions about backlog. Updates to roadmaps can occur during the release cycle. Agile Product Managers. then handle strategic issues the next. If the product manager writes too much. must learn to provide just the right data at just the right time to just the right people – at the right technical depth and in the appropriate format. but thorough review and resolution of issues is not. Product managers must “check the MRD box” knowing that large portions of their work will not be read or used. Inc. the creation of an MRD is a phase requirement for new projects. and solutions is based on three principles: Requirements Management and Communication Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. Release planning is an intense 2-3 day collaborative working session where the entire team provides estimates about the effort required to deliver the entire backlog of work for a given release. or “MRD”. high-level market requirements should be relatively stable while detailed feature specifications need more frequent editing. 3.
Agile Product Managers use five key artifacts: o Business Plan: This is not an MRD. sketches. architectural work.• • • Organizing information according to the time horizon it influences. While the backlog lists all of the work that needs to be done.Enthiosys. This often leads to the creating of Lo-Fi prototypes. o Backlog: This tracks the product’s entire known set of big ideas. while the lower levels have more intensive and collaborative conversations with core/extended product teams. optimized for the needs of those consuming it. Inc. flow-charts. wikis. product managers must collaborate with the development team to define acceptance criteria for each user story. Consider overlaying these concepts with our "onion" diagram. Formally documenting the smallest amount of information required to enable action. o Roadmap: Visually describes how the product will evolve over time to address the target markets as described in the business plan. Agile Product Managers must harvest information from these sources. | Page 5 www. The higher levels are focused on big picture issues. The development team is ready to ask detailed questions about what is has been requested. Customer Service. The plan also contains market research results. Agile Product Managers therefore adopt a wide range of artifacts and communication tools matched to their audiences. Managing frequently changing information differently from more stable information. that could possibly be considered for the product over its entire lifecycle. Given these challenges. In addition. o Release Plans: This communicates generally what capabilities and features are being delivered and when. financial summary information.4000 . these items often need additional elaboration during release and sprint planning. or collections of PostIt® notes on whiteboards. market research and customer conversations are happening continuously in many organizations as Marketing. In addition.com May 2008 650. and use collaboration when more detail information is needed. goals and how it supports the strategy. use cases. pricing and costs over time. Agile Product Managers must be prepared to provide significant detail about user stories that have been scheduled for upcoming sprints. Sales. involves the whole team. Agile Product Managers must involve customers throughout the development cycle to ensure that their products are evolving as expected and will meet customer expectations. 4. user stories.528. We noted above that market research and voice of the customer input are a critical part of green lighting new products and making major changes in product strategy. o Financial Model: Describes how the product will perform financially given a set of assumptions about sales performance. rather than using one document to accomplish the wide variety of communication and collaboration activities. etc. but instead briefly summarizes the product vision. uses and longevity. and uses many different communications vehicles to share rich customer information. go-to-market and operational issues as needed. features. Customer Input and Collaboration Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. The Agile Product Manager gathers input through a variety of mechanisms. Field Services and others interact with customers.
because overburdened release trains were almost certain to ship late. however. Traditionally. Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. They are also listening for the occasional patterns and big ideas that sometimes emerge from frequent customer interactions. Agile Product Managers may solicit opinions on narrow mid-sprint issues during visits to regularly scheduled customer gatherings. the Agile Product Manager must collaborate directly with customers to ensure that their products stay “on course” throughout the development cycle. so that the entire team can deepen its appreciation for requirements and use cases. Regular customer participation also provides the development teams opportunities for direct end user access. Agile Product Managers see roadmaps with multiple releases as an opportunity to have an infinite relationship with their customers. | Page 6 www. Agile Product Managers need to balance these frequent customer input and collaboration cycles with the longer term. Ideal sources of initial collaboration are naturally occurring customer gatherings such as user groups. Agile Product Manager often “steal some time” in front of customers to communicate the vision and goals for an upcoming release. Development team often take these customer-facing opportunities to pitch unique technical ideas – that they would normally reject as inappropriate – since they can safely propose ideas in person to selected customers. Agile Product Manager should consider engaging more intensively with a small number of customers for continuous feedback. features. Because Agile Product Managers take advantage of the flexibility that Agile gives them to more frequently re-prioritize.com May 2008 650. Alternatively. they have more options for how and when to meet specific customer needs. certain artifacts are especially helpful to communicate futures: a description of the release goals. In addition. they strongly favor customer input and collaboration techniques that provide fast. When faced with demands for new features.Beyond this broad interaction. product managers turned away even tiny feature requests from huge customers. and can negotiate crisply with customers or sales teams. they may meet individually with lead customers. This provides a forum for end-of-sprint feature showcases. and presentation of incremental progress. Furthermore because Agile Product Managers understand that they have many release vehicles to deliver incremental value to customers over time. Agile Product Managers can deliver "just in time" input with better and more current information.Enthiosys.4000 . Either way. qualitative. slotting and re-slotting features into upcoming releases where they deliver the most value. By using rapid qualitative techniques. training sessions and technical briefings. explicit backlog prioritization. strategic information and knowledge about the market to help avoid wild swings in priorities or release goals. wire frames or story boards of new features. Inc. By sharing this information with customers Agile Product Managers can get clear feedback and verify that they are on the right track. enhancements and bug fixes. She needs a plan for creating and managing those customer collaboration opportunities over the course of the release.528. directionally correct information to support rapid decision-making. and a prioritized backlog of use cases. Agile Product Managers can now "price out" one enhancement in terms of deferring other features. For example.
Agile Product Managers need to expand collaborative partnerships to supply complimentary skills. and the rationale for their products.5. They use a release planning process to get these estimates/plans 85% complete. They often struggle to answer the organization's two urgently repeated questions: "When will our product (or release) ship. Across and Out Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. Agile teams starved for product management fail to deliver on the promises of Agile.com May 2008 650. They also engage with the rest of the company at appropriate times. This expands the core product team to include full-time program management and part or full-time business requirements analysts. Expanding the Agile Product Managers role . a more successful model is to create product “duos” or “trios”.without causing confusion. Alternatively. adequate staffing. Product managers must continually communicate the status of their releases.4000 . updating and communicating roadmaps. 6. therefore.Enthiosys. Thus. collaborating with customers. As noted above. is a prerequisite for success. managing backlogs. earlier market entry. | Page 7 www. Agile Product Management groups need more resources. and removing development roadblocks. These new core product teams must execute their respective tasks while representing each other as needed . Executives should know that a significant part of Agile’s demonstrated success comes from better and more intense Agile Product Management inputs. they develop tight working relationships such that each can represent the team’s strategy. Agile teams start with project-long estimates and staffing plans before work begins. This means they also need the ability to make good financial choices that ensures that the product will satisfy the market without costing a fortune or creating technical challenges for future releases. preparing for and participating in release and iteration planning. improved customer satisfaction. Being able to negotiate the detailed trade-offs of a specific user story while maintaining the context of the larger system and the customer’s goals demands a fine-grained understanding of both the system and the market.528. more frequent calls for UI design input or the need to clarify requirements through the use of quick sketches and notes can be challenging. priorities and product goals. For many product managers. changes to organizational design and the patience to let core product teams gel. and what features will it contain?" A disciplined Agile Product Manager who is part of a functioning Agile team can deliver crisp. Agile Product Managers have several new responsibilities that add more hours each week. Additionally. This creates a dramatically increased work load for Agile Product Managers. continuously elaborating and clarifying requirements. letting individual Agile Product Mangers scale and accomplish their goals. clear and accurate answers to these two questions. Inc. creating user interfaces. and more top-line revenue. Rather than expecting Agile Product Managers to be able to successfully do everything themselves. To succeed. Then. This success translates into faster product cycles. Agile Product Teams Agile Product Managers are deeply involved with their development teams.supplementing it with program managers and business analysts – is a small cost when compared to improvements in developer efficiency and effectiveness. Communicating Information Up. With these new responsibilities Agile Product Managers also may need new skills.
the team holds a commitment meeting to ensure that everyone is on board with getting the software shipped and that what’s being shipped will meet market needs. enables the product manager and executive team to anticipate larger deliverables. etc. “in progress”. financial summaries. Inc. We know that every product needs a tireless champion. This secondary effect. or “done”. all with experienced Agile Product managers. Additionally. more actionable. Eventually. obsessively reminding the larger organization why this product was approved and how it contributes to the company strategy. More frequent rebalancing combined with higher quality information leads to improved allocation of a technology company's scarce resources to its highest-value opportunities. This is the point when the rest of the organization can lock down their plans and finalize whatever work remains to be ready to go to market. Agile teams collaborate with their Agile Product Managers to ensure that each backlog item can be completed within a single sprint. Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. Agile Product Managers are better able to handle this challenge. Agile’s focus on full completion of sprint-sized work items eliminates much of the fuzziness in project reporting.during actual development. since task completion is no longer based on individual judgment or optimism. the team must commit to a specific date with a specific set of features. market segmentation data. At some reasonable point in the release cycle.528. This is a very powerful change for management. detailed user stories. we find that status reports are clearer.4000 . as Agile teams become skilled at refining requirements into sprint-sized chunks of work. roadmaps. | Page 8 www.Enthiosys. since their projects are less likely to be wildly off schedule and their status information is unambiguous. This dramatically simplifies status reporting since each work product on the backlog can be unambiguously in only one of three states: “not started”. Product Managers must also communicate subsets of this information – especially highlevel status and repetition of product objectives – within the broader organization. the Agile Product Manager will be able to apply each team's "velocity" information to current backlog items and factor it into the current roadmap. Either the work is “done” or not. based on the richer factual information generated by the Agile process. Over time. As Agile Product Managers hone their skills at being able to roll this information back up into their higher level planning artifacts (release plans and roadmap) they’ll be able to deliver crisp and accurate communication about the product. portfolio managers will come to realize that the Agile Product Manager is really the most informed person who can really help the company make good financial decision. signing up interested customers to early trials and generally getting the word out. This may involve a rich set of communications artifacts including wire frames or prototypes. they can expect to be able to re-balance their portfolios more frequently. based on the acceptance criteria established at the beginning of the sprint. market. learned from consistently estimating smaller items of work. they increase their ability to accurately estimate larger items of work. Eventually. Once companies transition all of their teams to Agile. customers and team into the portfolio planning sessions. Also. capabilities and architectural elements. Combined with teams improving their estimation from sprint to sprint. executives and sales teams should be confident about communicating what’s coming and when by updating presentations and external roadmaps. the teams apply "time-boxing" daily and end-of-sprint retrospectives to tune their estimation process.com May 2008 650. and identify problems much earlier in a project's lifetime.
Product Managers are a critical driver of Agile and a strong determinant of its success. Their product portfolios can be adjusted more often. | Page 9 www. and build increasing trust across organizations. elaborating requirements and user stories into smaller chunks timed just as development needs it.com May 2008 650. and provide intensive market-focused leadership. bring better products to market faster. interact often with customers throughout the product cycle. Executives who want these advantages need to understand and support their Product Management teams as well as their Development teams. communicating internally and externally.Conclusion Technology companies are moving to Agile because they can deliver software more quickly. Inc. This presents a training and staffing challenge to companies. A partial solution to this challenge is to supplement Agile Product Managers with program managers and requirements analysts. tight communications with their teams. Agile Product Managers manage active backlogs. but also because their products are better aligned with customer requirements. Agile Product Management White Paper Enthiosys. keep projects aligned with roadmaps. They see reporting become clearer and more correct. with Agile Product Managers needing to do their jobs differently.528.4000 . They need to work at many organizational levels. The move to Agile forces changes throughout the company. Agile companies have more predictable software development. They are in constant. This means that Agile Product Managers have more to do and new skills to develop. and be comfortable zooming from deep technical details to customer benefits and back.Enthiosys. well beyond the Engineering organization.
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